2021 travel goals

My travel goals are already looking unlikely for this year. About as soon as I’d drawn them up, they were in part decimated by new government restrictions limiting us to 5km from our home for all of the month of January. But with a vaccine being rolled out across the globe (or at least to the bits which can afford it), it looks likely that 2021 may still allow some travel at some stage. At least more than 2020 did!

But although 2020 may have gone down as your least favourite year of your life so far (at least for those of us who haven’t lived through wars, epidemics, famines or natural disasters yet in our lives), could I (perhaps bizarrely) suggest that the Christian traveller could have a different perspective?

Let me explain.

A flying 2019
You see September – November 2019 looked MAD for me with my travels.

  • 2 trips to Edinburgh to help a new bookshop start up
  • 1 trip to Oxford as part of an IFES cross-cultural network I’m part of
  • 1 trip to Glasgow with the same network
  • 1 week to Inverness to help my sister’s family redecorate their home before they moved back to Africa.
  • 2 trips back to my old stomping ground in Munster with work projects
  • 3 or 4 trips to Dublin to visit my (at the time) soon-to-be fiancée
  • 2 house moves (including one change of country)

By December my housemate had realised that the maximum amount of consecutive nights I’d been sleeping at home was 4! All of that while being present every Sunday at my local church, helping serve on 3 teams in the church, and building friendships with local non-church people too. With all of this, even a travel-lover like me was exhausted and so I cancelled my travel plans for another couple of work trips that month.

Little did I know that it was going to be my last ‘proper’ travel until 2021

Down to earth with a bang
Doubtless even if 2020 wasn’t so bad and you managed a fair bit of travelling (I take my hat off to you for being able to dodge the government lockdowns, travel bans and border closures!), or if this year is looking more optimistic for you, I wouldn’t let your year’s expectations ride on your travel goals, regardless how good a year it may be for them. And I’ve said that on a normal year. We as Christian travellers can enjoy a more free-ing perspective.

Undefeatable 2021 plans
You see, much as I find it fun to travel, and much as many good things can be achieved through travel (as none of my 2019 travel listed above was purely ‘pleasure travel’ per se), Jesus would have us know that we would be fools to stake our worth in whether we will get to travel this year. Why not instead root our year in the God who made travel? Why not find our satisfaction in Him even when we don’t get to travel? The questions he asks us are completely different ones (aren’t they always!) to what we might naturally ask of 2021. And each one leads to consequences in the next.

01


Desire

What will you yearn for most this year in your heart? It is probably a glimpse of what you worship. Is that the God who made travel, or is that your travel plans with god in your pocket?

02


Design

Will you let this year primarily be shaped by scriptural convictions – by God and his good plans and gentle heart? Or by your other desires, justifiable as they may be? They care nothing for you and will be harsh task-masters if you let them shape your year.

03


Success

What will you measure success by this year? Travel destinations ticked off your bucket list? Or growth in godliness in your response to whatever this year has in store for us? One will give you contentedness in all circumstances and a purpose that will never be frustrated.

04


Grow

Are you committed to investing in a local church community and having others invest in you this year? It will mean sticking around somewhere long enough to be known by them, and to know even the people you don’t really want to know or spend time with. This is where growth in Godliness will occur.

Enlarging your joy
Unsure of what your year would look like differently? Not sure whether it sounds so appetising to do this? Well if you want to have more space to think about it this year, why not grab my e-book Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” for £0.99 (available at this price until the end of January) and read it with a friend? It’s an easy blend of travel stories, bits of stuff from Jesus’ words in the Bible, questions to help you think and things that might help you respond. And I pray that it might help you see that far from robbing you of your 2021 travel joys, having the God who made travel at the helm of your life will be like arriving at a destination in real life compared to only having experienced it through the brochure and Instagram pictures of it.

The old travel brochures that enticed us have long been replaced by Instagram and the internet. Above: 1948-1949 Quality Courts United travel brochure Photo credit: Choice Hotels International, Inc.

Something to sing about
But for now, why don’t I leave us on a positive by saying: of course none of this (committing to Godliness via a local church community) completely limits travel. As we’ve seen plenty of times elsewhere, travel is a great gift of the creator to us. In fact, in recently reading a book that Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote about singing (sadistic I know, given we can’t sing in our church buildings for a few more months until the virus passes – I wanted to find out what we’re missing when we don’t sing), they suggested that one of ten things that would most fuel our kids’ hearts for singing is….travel! Or more precisely:

Cultivate high opinions of all types of art: teach them to be lifelong students of discovery in this amazing creation God built all around us and in us. In the Getty and Lennox households we both benefitted from lively artistic discussions on classical music, books, travel and faith that encouraged curiosity, sincerity and creativity.”

“Sing: How worship transforms your life, family and church” (Getty, B&H Publishing)

Because out of the overflow from the joyful heart, comes worship.

Happy New Year!

And may we enjoy knowing the God who made travel, more and more.


A unique book that blends the author’s travel experiences with a whistle-stop tour through the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible. It’s a curious blend of travel writing, theology and personal testimony. I found it strangely gripping and thought provoking. It certainly opens doors for wide discussion on the Christian life, liberty and mission. It’s an easy read that’s both sincerely enjoyable and seriously challenging.
Bob J (Amazon reviewer)

Glimpses of local life, from holiday

*All names and places have been changed in this article so as not to incriminate anyone, and stories may be mixed together for security and have happened over many years.  For real accounts, please speak to me in person.

It was 45 degrees Celsius and we were escaping the city for an location unknown to me.  You don’t choose such places for pleasure.  We were wearing trousers so as not to culturally offend, but as the temperatures only got down to 28 degrees at night-time and there was no air conditioning, we remained bathing in our own sweat for most of the trip.  The warm trickle from the shower gave temporary relief each morning, but we were soon back roasting again, a few seconds after stepping out of the shower.

“I want to see churches multiplying across the land”

But it was all worth it to hear words like the above.  These were the bold words of one person, as we sat in an underground gathering of young believers in a secure location as the call to prayer rang out from the minarets across the land, reverberating on every street corner, in a country known to persecute people who were wanting to see growth of the Church.  We’d turned our phones off so we couldn’t be tracked but even that would raise suspicions if someone was keeping an eye on our phone activity.  Sitting in a training session with them all, and hearing them sing in their native tongue, native songs, was a powerful experience, as they shared their heart for their lives, their country and the nations.  The feeling in the room was one of weakness and fragility, but the prayers were bold ones.

In many trips to very different cultures, this was my first experience like this on holiday, and I hadn’t even planned it.  Nor would I know who to contact or where to go should I want it.  It just can’t be arranged.

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A wall magnetic board in a friend’s house.

And that was generally what I thought about authentic experiences in general whilst on holiday.  Meeting local people is one thing, but it is a rarity to be invited into anything meaningful in their lives, even if you’re around for a while.

But this once, it was different.  I went on a one week holiday with a company who arranged a cultural and linguistic package for us, so that we could spend hours a day with local people who loved to share life with us and speak English (and teach us our first baby steps in their language too).  Ranging from a top university professor telling us about the local history, sociology and anthropology, through to a simple teenager who wanted to further his career chances by picking up English, and several local business owners who shared about how they went about their businesses – over half the week was spent with around 40 local people, partaking of all sorts of fun activities.

It’s the type of thing you can’t find in many places for a holiday.  And for many people, it wouldn’t be a holiday they’d want to go on at all.  But as soon as its a regular package offered by a company, the experiences doubtless get less genuine, and the locals grow weary of endless streams of people who aren’t there to invest in the area longterm.  So it felt like a privilege to be there on a taster package and it left me with many more questions that I had before I went, while still teaching me vast amounts, despite having been in the region before, and having read about it.  It was one of the richest experiences I’ve had on holiday.

Just a few of the questions I continued to mull over after these trips:

  • how is business run differently in our culture to another culture?
  • how do you start a business in another culture?
  • what type of business should an immigrant (us) start that would empower locals?
  • should westerners accept random invitations from locals to Christian underground events without endangering them?
  • how can we be sustainable in our tourism?
  • how can English be used as a medium for trips, without colonialism becoming an issue?

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The Tea Garden, Dublin.  One of my favourite spots to get to meet others from various cultures, and to enjoy tea from their culture too!

Travel: escaping God

It’s the perfect get-away in many terms: travelling.  For anyone who has had to bear preachy, conservative folk breathing down their necks, whether that be family, friends or just the culture around you, you know what I mean!

I mean getting away from people who enforce their thoughts and narrow ways of living on you, and escaping into the utter wilds and freedom that is to be found is an epic feeling!  But even if you’re not escaping anything other than the mundane things of life, it’s still fabulous.

escape-travel

Going wherever.

Doing it whenever.

Meeting anyone you want along the way.

The world (as it is overstated) is your oyster!

Now feeling bitter about such a religious, conservative culture may not be a bad thing (for some of religiosity, if it makes itself known/felt as primarily “do nots”, is not true religion).  But in our story we’re considering today, the bitterness of our friend Jonah is far from justified (though certainly understandable!).

Jonah has decided that the people he was asked to bring the bad news about God’s judgement and good news about God’s rescue to, (the same good news that someone else brought him and which gave him life,) are not worthy of it.  A fairly natural feeling, given the horrors present in surrounding cultures at the time.  Though we’re always quick to forget our own failings and how God dealt with them (in grace), no, Jonah?

And so, not understanding the irony of refusing this mission, he “does a runner” in precisely the other direction, away from Nineveh.  He goes to the port of Joppa, jumps on a ship going to Tarshish and heads off travelling.  It’s the natural reaction when we don’t wanna face the music and dance.

But he’s missed one crucial thing.  He can’t hide from God.  As God’s children we can’t hide from God.  There are no sacred spaces.  No places devoid of God.  No places that God is more inclined to hang out in (apart from where His people gather to worship, wherever that is).  The Psalmist wrote:

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

But equally for those who don’t follow God, they can’t run from his judgement (Amos 9:1-6):

I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said:

‘Strike the tops of the pillars
    so that the thresholds shake.
Bring them down on the heads of all the people;
    those who are left I will kill with the sword.
Not one will get away,
    none will escape.
Though they dig down to the depths below,
    from there my hand will take them.
Though they climb up to the heavens above,
    from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
    there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea,
    there I will command the serpent to bite them.
Though they are driven into exile by their enemies,
    there I will command the sword to slay them.

‘I will keep my eye on them
    for harm and not for good.’

The Lord, the Lord Almighty –
he touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who live in it mourn;
the whole land rises like the Nile,
    then sinks like the river of Egypt;
he builds his lofty palace in the heavens
    and sets its foundation on the earth;
he calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out over the face of the land –
    the Lord is his name.

It is fearful imagery.

There is no escape from God.